Old Uffingtonians Association (1994)

   Willesden County Grammar School                         Ex-Pupils 1924-1967                    


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Grahame Smith - Memories from 1940-42!

Is there anyone out there who remembers being evacuated to Northampton during the blitz of 1940?  I’d love to hear from you! 

In that glorious summer of 1940, my mother, sister and I were living in Riffel Road, Willesden Green while my father was out on Canvey Island manning an anti-aircraft gun.  (He was 39, but being in the ‘Terriers’ was called up just before the war began.)  I was coming up to 12 years old and joined WCGS that September.  My memory of the first few weeks was first, morning assembly – then an hour or so in our classrooms, followed most days, by the siren wailing and the orderly (?) scramble down into the shelters.  These took the form of long tunnels under the playfield where we all sat in rows, facing each other, on slatted benches and the teacher was half-a-mile away down the far end.  We held our books on our knees.  How we were ever expected to learn anything I’ll never know. 

If the ‘raid’ was still on at 4.30pm we were let off to go home – if our parents had given permission.  Nothing ever happened, as far as I can remember.  But the nightly blitz was a different matter.  Heavy bombers, all heading for Willesden Junction marshalling yards and bombs dropping everywhere, including an incendiary through our upstairs flat while we were with the landlord’s family in the Anderson shelter in the garden.  Luckily it failed to ignite properly and the ARP wardens put it out.  But it was enough for our mother.  In early October, she and my sister went to friends in Cheshire where she got a job as a teacher and I joined the WCGS exodus to Northampton. 

Together with boys from Kilburn Grammar we were elbowed into Northampton Town and County School on the Billing Road.  The Northampton boys did the morning shift at school and we interlopers did the afternoon.  We were given plenty of work to fill in our mornings.  Most evacuees lived with the good folk of Northampton, but for some reason I was billeted in a small ‘country’ house at No. 101, dead opposite our new school.  There were about 20 of us – first formers like me, to sixth formers and the billet was run by Mr and Mrs Parker.  She was a bit of a ‘dragon’ – well, with a bunch of testosterone fuelled lads like us, she had to be!  Mr P. was a mild mannered bloke and his day job was chemistry or physics master, I think.

There was a small dining room, and considering we were rationed, Mrs P. fed us well.  A front room was converted into a classroom with old fashioned desks (including ink-wells!) and it was here we worked in the mornings.  At the back of the handsome house was a large ‘billiard room’ and this became our Common Room where we gathered to fool around after school and make model aircraft – British, German and later American.  There was a serious stamp collecting group and some of us made cat’s whisker radio receivers from stuff we bought in a local junk shop. 

Upstairs – as well as the Parkers’ quarters – we lads slept in small dormitories – 5 or 6 to a room in single beds.  I remember mine well and I’d like to name the boys I was with in case any of them are still around and would like to contact me. 

The 5 of us were all first formers and I was by the door, facing the window.  On my left, was my best buddy, Dennis Spurgeon (WCGS) and next to him, in the corner, Chaffer, a Kilburn lad.  Opposite Chaffer was another Kilburnian – Dimbleby and under the window, Walton, also WCGS.  We all seemed to mix together very amicably.  I wonder where you all are now? 

We played the usual boys’ school games – soccer and rugby during the winter and cricket in the summer.  There was a huge swimming pool in the town at Midsummer Meadows, I remember.  It was just a large hole that had been cheaply and simply lined and the water came from a diversion of the River Nene – in at one end and out back into the river at the other!  Present day ‘elf and safety inspectors would have a fit!  The river had taken the waste from half-a-dozen tanneries up-stream before we enjoyed its cooling, murky water on a hot Saturday afternoon.  But we all learned to swim, which can’t be bad and it must have helped our immune systems to overcome countless bugs in later life.  Although I have to say, the pool was closed for a time one year when a diphtheria epidemic swept the town.  Along with other boys at No. 101 I got a mild dose.

For major holidays, like Christmas, Easter and Summer, we all went home.  My friends, of course, returned to London, but I had to thread my way on the railway to Cheshire.  Northampton – Rugby – Crewe – Manchester and finally Altrincham.  The trains were crammed with forces personnel and as a 12 year old I quite enjoyed it, as I’d enjoyed the excitement of the blitz, I guess.  I’d spend the journey sitting in the corridor on my suitcase, handling a Lee-Enfield rifle, lent to me by a friendly soldier or wearing a sailor’s hat! 

But it was not to last and life moved on.  My mother got me a place at Altrincham Grammar School starting in the September of 1942, so after two happy years with WCGS in Northampton I caught my last train home and started a new school, where I stayed until 1946.  This was followed by 3 years at London University and a degree in Civil Engineering.  I failed my medical so I wasn’t conscripted.  Had that nasty, smelly swimming pool in Northampton put a bug in my lungs after all?  It didn’t seem to matter as I spent the next 40 years working around the world building things with an international civil engineering contractor. 

When our son with wife and two granddaughters emigrated to Perth in 1996, I was retired so my wife and I followed and have never regretted it.  So if any of you out there were in Northampton from 1940 – email me on: gsmi3841@bigpond.net.au.

Grahame Smith